December 16, 2013

What I’ve Learned from The Golden Girls

The Golden Girls
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I was never interested in watching The Golden Girls, the classic show featuring Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. I assumed it was going to be a show rife with jokes about being old and senile, tempting my patience with the same repetitive one-liners. Though the show does have its share of jokes about getting older (which are hilarious), it is so much more than I expected it to be.

Despite my best attempts at time management, it’s hard to resist taking a break from an essay on the “balance between religion and secularism within international law”. So, my boyfriend convinced me to watch a few episodes. I sat down with him and watched an episode or two. Then three. Then four. Then I lost count. Soon, I found myself immersed in the world of four older women living together under one roof, sharing stories about Sicily or St. Olaf and all the men they have slept with.

Have I more in common with these women than I initially believed?

It didn’t take long for me to learn to love the show. I hadn’t realized how far ahead of its time it was or how much I could learn from it. Well, as an ode to the four wonderful, beautiful actresses that made the show great, here is what I learned from each character.

Rose: Betty White played Rose, the incredibly kind-hearted woman that lacks any common sense. Initially, Rose is nothing more than a good friend. She always puts the best interests of others in front of hers and tends to find a way to relate a problem back to her time in St. Olaf. However, it only took a few episodes for me to really understand Rose, and for her to become my favorite character. Simply put, she is a lover. She loves and loves and loves. She wants to be everyone’s friend. She smiles in the worst situations. She remembers her deceased husband fondly. She is perfect. Rose is the person I want to be.

From Rose, I’ve learned to be honest, to have a sense of humor, and to show love to everyone and everything.

Blanche: Blanche, Blanche, Blanche… Rue McClanahan played Blanche, the slutty (in a sex-positive way) character that somehow knew almost every man in Miami. She was a Christian, Southern belle who had inherent problems about her gay brother marrying his boyfriend, but never had a problem hosting one-night-stands in motels. But that’s what made her so freakin’ awesome. She lived up to her mistakes and either owned them or admitted her ignorance (like in the case of her brother). She was never apologetic about her past and threw around sass like you wouldn’t believe. Her character was so different from what we see on television today. There was nothing wrong with her sleeping with lots of men. She embraced it, as did her friends. There was no slut-shaming and no guilt – just her having fun.

From Blanche, I’ve learned to never be apologetic for the person you are, even if that person sleeps with lots of men.

Sophia & Dorothy: You’ll have to excuse the pairing of the two characters. I do not mean to reduce them to a couple, but to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the two. Sophia, played by Estelle Getty, is Dorothy’s mother who comes to live with the three younger characters after her nursing home burns down. Dorothy, played by Bea Arthur, does not always get along with her mother, but they love each other. Their moments of intimacy are short and few, but they are there. Their relationship shows the complexity of mother-daughter relationships and what it’s like to live with your parents (again). Sophia, a tiny Sicilian woman, tends to make up fake stories about her time in Sicily to teach the women a lesson. Dorothy, as tall as Sophia is short, is a strong character that is the most down-to-Earth and reasonable. Sure, her relationship with her mother isn’t always ideal, but at least that makes it real.

From Sophia and Dorothy, I’ve learned how little parent-child relationships change over time. I’ve learned that even if my mother starts making up stories about her childhood in Orange, New Jersey, I’ll love her anyway.

So, there you have it. I’m officially a Golden Girls fan. I can humbly say that I underestimated the show. I underestimated everything about it: the characters, the plots, the relationships, everything. It is smart, it’s wise, and surprisingly fresh for a show more than 20 years old. Sure, it’s a little feminine and a bit sentimental, but I’d like to believe I’m a little bit of both those things, and thanks to Blanche, I can own it.

By Kyle Shaughnessy

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